Updated on Tuesday 11 November 2016 by Lars Heemskerk.
At Akvo we’re not professional video people. But we think video is really important to our work and that of our partners. We use it to bring to life the people we meet and the interactions we have. We think it makes everything we do feel more real. We’ve been doing video for about three years and we’ve taken a distinct approach, which emphasises simplicity.
Don’t produce professional-quality video
If this video has to be perfect, you’re the wrong person to be doing it. But actually most things aren’t that critical – if it goes wrong, will anyone die? My bet is no. If you want to produce really professional video, hire professionals. If, on the other hand, you are a professional person who happens to carry a video camera, read on.
Output is the goal
Your goal is to publish lots of short clips that document interesting people and meaningful interaction. Anything that gets in the way of producing rapid-fire video is getting in the way, full stop. You don’t have time for complexity – video is a sideline for you. It’s not your real job.
Editing is the enemy
If you want to find a way to eat your time, get into editing video – how the hours will fly by! If you are spending more than 15 minutes editing a 3 minute video, you need to do it more simply.
At Akvo, we don’t really edit video. We crop them…. we start at an “in” point and end at an “out” point. We insert a logo “bumper” in front of that, and a Creative Commons logo at the end.
Don’t get hung up on which video platform
If you shoot video in a consistent way, you can upload it to multiple video platforms and just embed clips and players wherever you want them. At Akvo and WaterCube.tv we mainly use YouTube, which is free and pretty good. But Vimeo is good, too and has subscription versions which give you prioritised uploads and some other nice features. We used to use Blip.tv but they actually withdrew their service – so it’s well worth keeping all your original footage in case the service ever goes away. Vimeo doesn’t try to lure your viewers away to other, often irrelevant content – an advantage over the advertising-obsessed YouTube.
When uploading in YouTube, Vimeo, whatever, you MUST caption your video with accurate details. Don’t try to summarise everything that was discussed, but ensure you get the name of the person right and explain where they work. Always add your name as interviewer, too, and say where and when it was filmed. This will make the video more useful later, and easier to find when people do a Google search.
Don’t get fixated with the kit
You can shoot video on lots of different devices. Just give it a go. We tend to use Flip cameras, iPhones, Android phones or Sanyo Xactis / Panasonic DC cameras. Pick a camera and stick to it. You’ll get to know its limitations.
Shoot at a consistent size/resolution
If you have a bunch of people shooting video, make sure everyone is filming at the same resolution. Otherwise you’ll need lots of different-sized bumper captions, and everything will be a different size and shape. This shouldn’t be an exercise in “my camera is higher res than yours”. It’s an exercise in everyone working together, consistently.
What’s the point of shooting HD video if you’re putting it online? For most of our content, HD really isn’t important. At Akvo we stuck for a long time to VGA resolution, so 640×480 pixels. This is absolutely fine for what we do – head and shoulders interviews, on the fly. Nowadays we shoot more at 720p resolution, if we know we have the bandwidth to upload it. But don’t over do the HD thing.
Add brief front and back ident bumpers
Add a front and back bumper to your videos, to make them smarter and give them a clear brand identity. A 5-second logo is all you need. We create ours once as an Apple Keynote presentation, which we export as a movie clip. Then we just paste the bumper in whenever needed, quick as a flash. Recently we’ve started videos by filming a caption card, placed on the table and then moving up to the person themselves. This works great, and is especially useful if you want to shoot straight from smartphones such as an iPhone.
Don’t film most things
Focus on interviews. Don’t record plenary sessions, workshops, or whatever. They will look totally boring. Just do short 3 minute interviews. If someone asks you to film a workshop, say no. Offer instead to do a quick 3 minute interview at the end, asking a few of the people to summarise what happened.
Choose your moment
You have to get good at knowing when to step in and say “Can I do a quick video interview with you?”. You’ll find this easier the more you do it.
Get it online right away
We always try to put videos online the same day. Anything else is stale. If you haven’t got time to edit the video today, why do you think you’ll have the time to do it tomorrow?
If you film it, you edit and publish it
Don’t think it’s ok to walk around filming clips and then hand the camera to someone else to make sense of it. At Akvo, if you film something, you know it best. You can edit it and put it online much more quickly than anyone else can. Giving it to someone else to edit adds lots of time to the process (they need to watch it all, for starters).
Be part of the interview
A credible interview is about two people – the interviewer and interviewee. As interviewer, don’t hide away – make your voice stand out and be part of the clip… If we don’t trust the interviewer, we won’t trust the content. On the other hand, be careful not to dominate the interview.
Who are you?
Always ask people to introduce themselves – “Who are you and what do you do?”
If people aren’t good, that’s their problem not yours
If someone doesn’t do a great job of explaining themselves, that’s their hard luck. Wrap the interview up and move on. But put it online anyway.
Think about lighting and looks. You’ll assess very quickly who is and isn’t comfortable with how they look, so don’t force people to be interviewed who hate the idea. And always try to make people look nice.
Marginal visuals are fine, but marginal audio is a no-no. The interview must be easy to listen to. Some background noise is ok, but it shouldn’t be tiring. You must be able to hear what is being said. Find somewhere quieter to shoot in. Also beware of wind – it can really bugger things up, so avoid filming in the wind.
Don’t reshoot – just chop the bad bit. If someone says something really dumb, ask them to clarify in the video and let them correct themselves.
Avoid catching people out
If someone says something really dumb, recognise that they don’t do this stuff often. You’re not an investigative reporter trying to wrong foot a politician, so don’t turn into one just because you have a video camera. Say, “is that really what you mean?”
Film the name badge
Whenever possible – and at events this is usually possible – always ask people to hold up their name badge so you can film it. That way, the interviewees name (and the correct spelling) is burned into the movie, so you’ll know who it is you’re editing. I can’t stress how much time this will save you. Make it a feature of your movies – it’s fine.
3 minute rule
Never film a clip that lasts more than 4 minutes, EVER. Ideally all your interviews should be 3 minutes or under. Basically make them about the same length as a pop music track – there’s a reason music tracks are the length they are… people like that length of content.
Don’t over-define what people are seeing
Don’t use to much text captions in your videos, the content can be interpreted in many ways. Give space for people to create their own view.
Don’t get fancy
We’ve already said that you should keep video editing really simple. But just in case you’re thinking of ignoring us, don’t. Even with great software, a video that contains transitions and effects, done by an amateur, will come out looking like a really bad wedding video. Videos full of transitions are like office documents filled with clip art. Save us all the embarrassment, please.
Make clear that everything goes online
Only film people who know the interview is going online. Never be murky about this. Nowadays it’s pretty accepted that if something is videoed, it could appear on the internet, but be really clear about this to everyone.
Don’t agree to edit stuff that’s already online
If someone says they don’t like what they said, and want you to change it, stand firm. They said it, so what’s the problem? Only in exceptional circumstances should you edit a video – and usually I think it’s that the person will lose their job if it stays online in that form.
Don’t delete a video once it’s up
Once a video is online, avoid removing it. This will make people nervous – if they go to one of your interviews and it says “this content has been removed” people will wonder what’s going on. Did you break copyright, do these people know what they’re doing? You get the picture.
Here’s an example of a video I shot last week. It gives a good sense of how we do things.
Mark Charmer is co-founder and communications director at Akvo.org. For examples of our videos, go to www.akvo.tv or www.watercube.tv.
Related: How I edit video, really simply, on a Mac (3 November 2011)
Updated on Tuesday 8 April 2014 – we no longer recommend blip.tv, because they withdrew their service when they changed their company strategy.